Jess Ayling’s Career in Yachting

Jess Ayling is no ordinary Purser. This young lady started out as a deckhand and impressively worked her way up the ladder, gaining her OOW in the process. Her passion for her job is palpable, injecting an aspect of care into the industry that is oftentimes absent. She opens up about her career in yachting and how her journey took her from deckhand to Purser.

Did you always want to get into yachting?

Originally I considered yachting a kind of ‘stop gap’ before I went to university. I genuinely thought I would be in the industry for a couple of years. I had no idea the journey I was about to undertake. Thirteen years later I’m still here and I have no regrets.

What made you choose the deck route vs. interior when starting your yachting career?

There was no question that I would go the deckhand route when I first got into yachting. Growing up sailing, diving and driving boats,  it was a complete no brainier. Back in 2008, it was still quite uncommon to have female deckies. The yacht agents tried to convince me I should go for deck/stew roles. The best piece of advice I was given was to stick to my guns and tell them I only wanted to be considered for a full deck role. After being told I would struggle, I proved them wrong by having seven solid job offers after 2 days in Antibes, I joined my first yacht a couple of weeks later in Mexico.

What was it like working your way up on deck?

It was so much fun, I loved the comradery that comes with being on deck. I learnt to be tough and take a lot of jokes, however, at the same time I have only ever felt truly respected by the men I have worked with. Unfortunately, I know this is not always the case, and misogyny is still very prevalent in Yachting. As a female, I felt things get slightly more difficult when I wanted to start climbing the ladder and asking for more responsibility. There is a huge appeal of having a female deckhand. However, they become more sceptical when it comes to a female in a leadership role over a team of men. You certainly have to work twice as hard, study and get all your tickets before you are taken seriously.

Tell us what made you transition from a Second Officer to a Purser Role?

I was in a time of my life where I was unsure what direction I wanted to take in yachting, I loved being Second Officer however I knew I did not want to become a Captain. I had been playing with the idea of being a Purser as there are many transferable skills. I Spoke to one of the lovely ladies at Wilson Halligan for some advice, and they gave me the courage to go for it and put my CV out there.

Who has been a mentor/support for you in your yachting career?

My current Rotational Captains have been an invaluable part of my career growth as Purser and I have a great working relationship with them both, they are so encouraging. Throughout my entire career my sister, Nicki Ayling, who was also in the yachting industry for many years has always been someone I’ve looked up to as a strong female dominating in a male field.

What challenges do you face working as a Purser?

The past couple of years of ‘COVID madness’ has been extremely challenging as a Purser, I feel like I have learnt so much in a short space of time. I have learnt to prioritise and handle anything that is thrown in my direction and I simply do not sweat the small stuff anymore. Another huge thing I have to consistently work on is handling my emotions in a high-pressure role. I really care about my job, and the crew, but sometimes you have to try and detach as you can get overburdened by others’ expectations of you. When you are under pressure it’s easy to feel like this.

The only other huge challenge I face is coming down for lunch without being bombarded with questions about crew flights… but I guess that comes with the territory.

How do you feel about the future of the industry?

I am hoping to see some positive sustainable changes as we become more aware of the impact our actions have on the planet. COVID has made people evaluate what is really important.

What has been your favourite thing about yachting throughout your yachting career?

There are too many highlights for me and I have been to some unbelievable places and had unforgettable experiences. My absolute favourite thing is the people I’ve met and knowing that I now have friends all around the world to visit (when we can all travel again).

What is next in the pipeline for you?

Yachting has been my life since I was a green deckhand at the tender age of eighteen. I am currently lucky to be employed on a fantastic vessel so I’m really happy where I am right now. If and when things change I would still love to work around the industry somehow although I am not sure in which capacity.

What advice would you give young ladies looking to start their yachting career with regards to which path to take?

I would say I am a testament to the fact that if you are not sure which direction to go, you can always change your mind later on. A career in yachting is incredible and if you work hard you will reap the rewards, so go for it!

It’s clear that we can expect great things from Jess. As for her career in yachting, I doubt we’ll see the last of it for some time to come. Thanks for making the industry a better place Jess!

Luke Humphries

Captain Luke Humphries – On board Superyachts

Luke is an  Australian Master Mariner with 25 years in the game (time flies when you’re having fun!). He began in 1995 as a Deck Officer cadet in the Australian Merchant Navy spending 8 years on a variety of vessels from Tankers and Container Ships to Ferries and Bulk Carriers. This lead to time in the Oil and Gas Industry which he also continued during periods of relief work in the early days of his yachting career. For the past 17 years, he has worked in the Yachting Industry on reputable Charter and Private yachts cruising extensively worldwide. Today Luke enlightens us about his experience and journey on board Superyachts.

Your career has been long and exciting, can you tell us a little about your background and where you’re from?

I’m Australian and grew up in Tasmania spending much of my youth in a little fishing town called St Helens on the East Coast. At school, I was a jack of all trades, master of none and had no idea what career I wanted to pursue. In year 11, I saw an advert in the Australian Newspaper for ‘Careers at Sea’ with a Global mining company ‘BHP Billiton’ where they were offering cadetships for Deck and Engineer Officers, and so I started looking into it. The idea of travelling the world and training as a Deck Officer caught my attention. I would be responsible for navigation, fire, safety and medical care all whilst being paid for it! At the end of year 12, I applied to a shipping company ‘ASP Ship Management’ and was accepted in their cadet intake for 1995.

Coming from the Australian Merchant Navy, what did you find appealing about making the move to on board Superyachts? 

The change was huge, I’m not going to lie. I had worked on a variety of Cargo and Passenger ships as well as spending time in the Oil and Gas industry. I worked my way up to Chief Officer but yes, yachting was a little different. Friends of mine who I studied with as Engineers found the yachting industry a few years after we graduated in the late ‘90s. They would come back to Tasmania and tell stories of Fort Lauderdale and Antibes, the money, travel and lifestyle. They were doing extremely well and some of them were working as couples with their girlfriends from college days. My girlfriend at the time (now wife and partner of 19 years) and I spoke about the idea a few times and it was really her idea to take the plunge. She was finishing University that year and so we packed up and headed to Fort Lauderdale the following February. The original plan was to spend two years working on yachts to travel and save money for a deposit to buy a house back in Australia. As you can see the rest is history!!

How would you describe your favourite part about a career on board Superyachts?

It’s the thrill of not knowing what’s going to happen next, who you will meet, where you will travel. Also the exhilaration of pulling off the most amazing and impossible plans for the guests at the drop of a hat. It’s one of the most satisfying things for me, knowing you’ve played a part in bringing it all together by providing a special experience and blowing them away! It’s amazing!

You’ve been to some incredible destinations in your time, can you tell us about your most memorable/favourite destination and experience?

One of the most memorable was diving with a previous Owner, a drift dive on a reef shelf in the Los Aves Archipelago off the Venezuelan coast. The Archipelago was amazing, totally uninhabited and the dive spectacular in itself but, as we were diving, we heard a pod of dolphins calling nearby. We didn’t see them until almost the end of the dive when they came out to see who was playing in their backyard, amazing 🙂

What challenges do you face when travelling to remote destinations on board Superyachts?

Logistics is always so key in planning successful trips in remote locations. Typically you’re on your own so you need to think of the worst-case scenario for pretty much everything, communications, provisions, medical aid, transport, stores and spares etc. The key is having an experienced team on board who can brainstorm and draw on their collective experiences to work through and mitigate the issues as best as possible. Curveballs will always come but if they didn’t, it wouldn’t be yachting now, would it!?

As a Superyacht, what additional pressures do you face for navigating during COVID?

COVID has been extremely tough on everyone and the world is no longer the same as a result. The biggest challenge has been managing the crew during long periods away from home and listening and supporting them as much as possible in dealing with the issues the pandemic has brought to each one of us. It’s easy to forget about COVID when onboard in our ‘yacht bubble’ and in many ways, we are very lucky, however, we all need to be reminded now and again not to get complacent on board or at home in order to protect our work colleagues and families, and to manage the owner’s expectations. I feel that we are not out of the woods just yet and will be feeling the after-effects of the pandemic for years to come.

What would you say has been the most rewarding aspect of your career on board Superyachts?

I would say it’s being in a position to mentor and following the rise of the careers of those who have worked with me previously. Seeing them grow and develop from green crew to senior crew of the highest calibre and knowing you’ve played a part in that is the biggest reward.

What has been your drive for your career on board Superyachts? Did you have a mentor?

We all know that yachting is infectious and my experience is no exception. I never expected to be in it for the time that I have, however, 19 years after first dock walking in Fort Lauderdale, here I am! I have had a couple of mentors over the years and they know who they are. The one thing I will say though is that you never stop learning, every day is different and everyone you meet can teach you something.

Given the opportunity, what advice would you give a green deckie starting out in yachting who dreams of Captaincy?

Take your time, listen well, work hard and learn your craft. Soak up as much knowledge as you can from those around you, be respectful, stay true to yourself and enjoy the ride. Don’t rush and aspire to the dizzy heights before you’re ready because the easy part is getting the job, the hard part is keeping it!

And finally, what’s next for you?

The pandemic has meant extended periods away from home the past 18 months, so trying to balance work and family life and reconnect with family and friends is at the top of my list 🙂

Luke Humphries

Luke’s proven track record for successfully exceeding expectations is reflected in his history as a sought after Captain who is admired by all of those who know him, however, this is not something he takes for granted. Bringing enthusiasm, positivity, professionalism, and drive to the forefront, Luke takes pride in maintaining a vessel and her extended operations to the highest of standards. A plethora of in-demand qualities, a role-model to many, and a true industry leader; this is a Captain to aspire to.

It was an absolute pleasure chatting with you, we wish you the very best on the rest of your journey on board Superyachts!

Captain Liz Brasler

Leaders in Yachting with Captain Liz Brasler

Passionate about the yachting industry, professional achievements, and personal development, Virtual Pursers are focused on keeping everyone in the loop and encouraging our industry peers to reach for the stars. With our new and exclusive Q&A segment, we sit down each month to discuss career development and hot topics with captivating industry leaders in yachting, providing personal insight through the eyes of those with experience. Leaders in yachting play a vital role in guiding the future of the industry; we are thrilled to dive into their distinctive narratives and find out what is next.

This month, we have the privilege of chatting with Liz Brasler on her inspiring journey to becoming Captain.

Feel free to comment below!

All leaders in yachting have to start somewhere. How did your career begin?

In February 2006 I had just arrived in St. Maarten after another Atlantic crossing aboard my parent’s Sailing Yacht. I had completed my schooling and had read every book on board. I gazed out at the yachts moored near the bridge and wondered what it was like living on something that big compared to the boat I grew up on since the age of 9. I assembled a little resume, you could hardly call it a CV, with the most relevant qualification being PADI Divemaster. I walked the docks at Isle de Sol, and one Captain overheard my conversation. He chased after me on his bicycle as I ran for my RIB that I had left at the dinghy dock. (Access was strictly controlled from land, but arriving by boat was totally normal for me, I was not being sneaky) John was very kind and offered me a temporary deckhand job provided I could quickly do my STCW modules. Enter Jan and Veerle from MSWI who had a no show on the day the course started. I was accepted on the course and the yacht.

Did you always dream of becoming a Captain?

When I first joined yachting I did not think of becoming a Captain, however, as time went by, I found myself wondering what I would do in a particular situation if I was the Captain and explored the possibilities.

How long did it take you to get your Master 3000 and where did you do your training?

If you count my time on that first yacht, through M/Y A, and all the others, it took me from 2006 till 2019 that’s 13 years, 8 of them with a Chief Mate 3000t ticket.

I did training at so many schools if you include the RYA stuff. Honestly, the hardest modules for me were Stability and Celestial, and I passed those with self-study. I found a heap of educational videos online and knuckled down to understand them completely in every way instead of exam-cramming.

Being a female leader in yachting, have you encountered obstacles along the way?

I think all of the usual problems a woman expects. Girls reading this who are thinking about this career must know that everything you do, must be done 4x better than your male counterparts, no matter how unfair it is. The upside is that as a woman you can deal with that unfairness better It’s sad but true, the expectation of failure is higher if you are female.

What have been some of your career highlights?

Obviously passing my Master’s Oral Exam ranks high among them, but otherwise just personal milestones and small successes.

Describe some positive influences you have had in your career?

I never googled other female leaders and Captains, honestly, the most positive inspirations were the new crew just setting out who asked questions and seemed inspired by me, when in fact I was inspired by their energy and optimism.

Have you had any mentors along the way?

No, unfortunately not. I have heard of some though and envy the ladies who have had them

What advice would you give future leaders in yachting contemplating a career path to Captain?

Try to find a boat where you will be mentored. It’s a lonely path when you go alone.

Where to next for you? What’s your ultimate dream job?

Next? Well with Covid all around our plans will need to be even more fluid than usual. My partner and I will both be looking for a new position taking into consideration the current global pandemic and restrictions.

Ultimate dream job?

That’s a tough one as it very much depends on the vessel and situation. Either a couples position with my Chef partner, on a research or owner only, adventure yacht or joining a  new build and setting up a vessel in the shipyard which is always an exciting challenge.

Liz has successfully managed to hold her own in the industry and her hard work has paid off. She is an inspiration to future leaders in yachting everywhere